Coffee and your wallet

A cappuccino in a green cup.

Black gold

Last week I wrote about the nutritional value (or not) of coffee, this week the focus is on economic factors. This is a simplified analysis and not meant to be an economic treatise. There are no doubt, lots of angles I have not considered.

Microeconomics – your budget.

Café coffee:

As a point of reference, I am going to use my regular order of a skim milk regular sized cappuccino as the “standard” purchase. You can pay anywhere from $A3:50 – $A6:00 depending on size and location so I will use a cost of $4 per cup.

If you buy one cappuccino every day, you are going to spend $4 x 365 = $1460 per capita per annum.

So maybe you only buy coffee on the days you work. Using a 5 day work week and four weeks annual leave that’s $4 x 240 = $960.

Let’s say your working life is around 40 years;  you’ll end up spending between $40,000 – $60,000 on coffee! If you’re living as a couple, that could be $80-120,000 over your lifetimes.

SHIT that’s scary money!

That’s three years of mortgage payments! Is it worth it?

Do-it-yourself coffee – instant.

Ok, so you’ve decided you can’t do without coffee. Can you save money by making your own?

Well yes!

A  200 g jar of instant coffee will set you back around $13 from Woollies and will make around 100 cups of coffee. Plus there’s milk and sugar or sweetener if you use it. I am not going to try and factor those in here.

If we stick to the one cup per day, every day of the year you will spend $47 per annum.

Over your work life and not allowing for inflation; $1900.

BOOM!  An instant saving of $38K per person. But you aren’t going to switch to Moccona because we have all become coffee snobs who want “proper” coffee from the trendy cafe! And in reality, you’ll probably drink both the made at home/work and the cup(s) from the cafe.

Maybe you can buy a coffee machine and save money that way?

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Do-it-yourself – coffee machine.

This calculation presents a few problems. It’s a bit of a “how-long-is-a-piece-of-string” argument. Just typing “coffee makers” into Google; gives you machines ranging from $3000 to $59. If you spend $3000 on a coffee machine, it will take you 2 years to make your money back, and I bet you won’t!

Why?

Because even if you have a fancy coffee maker, you’ll still buy coffee from the cute little cafe near work! You know you will!

Using a pod machine will save you money too, BUT you’ll have to deal with the environmental cost of all those plastic or metal pods. AND you’ll still buy coffee from the cute little cafe near work! You know you will!

Of course, you could grind your own coffee too and use a plunger or lots of other methods which would be cheaper than cafe coffee so you could potentially spend much less than that estimate of $60,000 over a working lifetime.

I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money or tell you if you can afford that or not. You’ll have to decide that for yourself, but you may have not given it much thought. I think the main point is that coffee is a luxury. While some of you will argue that it is essential, it’s not. Not like food or shelter. The money you spend on it is discretionary.

Macroeconomics – the global economy

The Production Side of Coffee

Coffee is derived from two main species Coffea arabica and C. Robusta. It has only been in widespread usage as a beverage for around 500 years. It is thought to have originated in Ethiopia where it was domesticated before being distributed widely. The now huge South American crop originated from the seeds of a single plant taken from the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens.

The ten biggest coffee growing nations are Brazi, Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia, Peru, Ethiopia, Mexico, India, Guatemala and Uganda. The countries that consume the most coffee are (in order) United States, Germany, Japan, Italy and France.

I think you can see how things are going to pan out here. There is an imbalance between the economic power of the people who grow coffee and the people who drink coffee.

Poor people grow it, rich(er) people drink it.

The price of coffee is controlled by the commodity markets in New York and London, a long way from the growers. It is the second most traded commodity after crude oil. I have no idea how these commodity markets work, but I’m sure that the people on the floor yelling and shouting at each other aren’t thinking about whether a grower can feed his family on what he will be paid.

According to the documentary  Black Gold (2014), Ethiopian farmers are paid around 65c per kilo. It costs them 90c to produce one kilo of coffee. (huh???)  There are up to six steps in the chain from grower to consumer with each step adding to the price. The coffee part of your daily cup is only worth around 3 cents. While this data is now five years old, the principle remains the same. The growers are not given a fair price for their labour and have to endure significant hardship so you can be perky.

I recommend you download the Black Gold documentary. You can watch the trailer here or buy/rent the full version.

Watch it,  then try and drink your coffee with a clear conscience!

The consumption side of coffee

I live in the small city of Wollongong which has a population of just under 300,000. A Google search of cafes in Wollongong throws up 8 pages of results. The people at Wollongong Council told me there are X cafes. (I’m waiting on the council to get back to me with that number but it’s lots! ) That’s a lot of cafes and a lot of jobs. Multiply that by towns in Australia, and then the world. There must be a bazillion million million dollars sloshing around in coffee.

People who work in or own cafes aren’t exactly rolling in cash either. In Australia, there are more small traders selling coffee compared to big chains like Starbucks or Tim Hortons.  Many cafe workers are students earning the minimum wage. Then there are the roasters, the distributors, the drivers who deliver the coffee, the importers, the cup manufacturers, the barista trainers, the espresso machine makers, etc. etc. etc.!

According to IBIS World, the cafe and coffee shop industry in Australia alone is worth $10Bn with a growth rate of 2.2%. 139,091 people are employed by 20375 businesses. (I don’t think this includes all the ancillary services listed above.) Contrary to what I was thinking, this represents only a tiny proportion of the total value of Australian business which was estimated to be around $1.7 trillion in 2016.

So, perhaps the Australian economy wouldn’t fall over if we all stopped buying coffee, but it would be sleepier and grumpier!

Can you be a more ethical coffee consumer?

Yes – to an extent.

  • Buy your coffee from a small business rather than big chains or multinationals. That way your money goes to pay for a family’s expenses and not making faceless corporations bigger.
  • Choose places that offer fair trade or direct trade coffee and be prepared to pay a little more if needed.  Read more about ethical coffee buying here
  • You can look at helping finance a grower directly through an organisation such as Kiva which provides micro-loans directly to people in need. You can read about Kiva here.

 

Small Bars In Wollongong

Wollongong’s nightlife grows up.

Part 1

Somewhere between me being 45 and nearly 60, Wollongong’s nightlife has been through a metamorphosis. At one time, Wollongong had a reputation for being violent. Rolling brawls spilled out of places like the Glasshouse onto the streets and kept people like me at home.  We didn’t feel comfortable sharing noisy venues with barely-clad chicky babes and young men whose sole goal was to get “maggoted”. My friends and I stayed at home and had civilised dinner parties, sometimes venturing out to the popular Little Prince* only to be disappointed because we couldn’t find a seat.

(*I’ll review the Littel Prince in another post)

More recently and I’m reticent to use the word “suddenly” because I’m sure it has not been sudden, there has been a torrent of small bars setting up shop. These places have style, the music is quieter, the seats more comfortable and the lighting more subdued.

It’s not so much a case of Wollongong changing from an ugly caterpillar into a butterfly, because some those rowdier places are still open for business. Rather, new classier blood has moved into the neighbourhood offering more choice to a broader range of patrons. In fact, we’re spoiled for choice at the moment!

My friends and I are not looking for somewhere to “hook up” or meet a date. We want a place where we can feel comfortable alone or with a group of friends for a chat. We enjoy good food and are fussy in our choice of drinks.  We want background music that stays in the background and excellent amenities in terms of toilets, glassware and seating.

So which small bars are a good match for Old Chooks?

In the interests of research, I decided to hit the streets and review the boutique and small bar scene, systematically and scientifically. Armed with an online survey, I enlisted the help of some dedicated Old Chooks (Diane and Karen) to critically evaluate what was on offer.

So far, we have checked out six small bars over two nights in Febraury and March 2019.  We will bravely venture out again to check out more bars in the coming months. Tough work but someone has to do it!

Methodology

I must say we approached our task with enthusiasm, and frankly, I think we got a little overexcited. It was funny how having a purpose changed the dynamics of a night out, transforming it from a simple social get-together to a serious mission. It also meant we were more observant than we would have been otherwise. The methodology is simple. We each pick a bar, then work out the most efficient walking route between them. Once at the bar, we carefully check the food and drinks menu and the toilets. These are the deal breakers in our view! We try to engage the bar staff in conversation without giving our game away. We order a drink each and some food to share and then after an hour or so move onto the next bar.

Three bars, three drinks, three snacks.

In that hour, we are busy on our phones filling in the survey and discussing the lighting, the ambience, the crowd and the facilities. The survey is comprehensive, and each question is given a score. The scores are then added up to provide an overall rating. There are a few inherent biases in the method. The first bar on the list is reviewed early in the night, and it may not have yet reached its peak ambience. Another factor is that the third bar is considered after 2 drinks. Hopefully, we are not such cheap drunks that our focus is too frayed!

The reviews

Juniper Bar

121 Keira Street, Wollongong

Juniper was our first review, and we started there at about 7:30 PM. There were plenty of available tables. The crowd was made up of three male/female couples and a group of eight 30-40-year-old females. Four men walked in, looked around and walked out. Perhaps it was a bit girly for their taste? The concrete walls were sponged with pastel tones, and there was no other decoration. The wooden tables were garnished with small candles and a bit of greenery in a recycled jar. The concrete floor and walls created a noisy vibe, and the music was too loud for easy conversation. There was a definite need for some soft surfaces to act as noise dampeners. The bar itself had a charming backlit display which was very interesting.

Juniper, as the name suggests, is a gin bar. There was an extensive selection of gin but little else besides. The printed menu was very informative and gave good descriptions of the gin varietals.  They offered gin-based cocktails as well as straight nips and various tonic mixers. The drinks ranged in price from $11 – $19. The food menu was minimal (a choice a three) and there was no vegetarian option.  We chose the drinks plate: a platter of cheese and meats with very crunchy toasted bread ~ $25. The two wait staff were friendly.

BEST:  Excellent subdued lighting. The bar was nicely lit and looked very pretty.

WORST: Noise levels and food choices.

Black Cockatoo.

88 Kembla Street, Wollongong (behind the Creamies gelato shop)

I felt like a secret agent entering the Black Cockatoo with its hidden entry off an ice cream parlour. I wish you needed to give a secret handshake! Once inside the dark interior was reminiscent of an American bar. Booths lined the walls with a few standing tables as well as seats at the bar. It’s a small venue with a capacity for around 30. A large painted mural of a cockatoo and a few band posters were the only decorations.  Still, it had a nice ambience tending to retro. Two 20-something men were serving. They were very casually dressed in long shorts and t-shirts. The food menu was again minimal and this time consisted of packet chips, sausage rolls and cheese and spinach pies. Don’t come here looking for a meal! The drinks menu was small and limited to canned beers, a few imported draft beers and a  small selection of wine. Drink prices were reasonable, ranging from $6 up to $15.

When we arrived at 8:30, we were the only ones there for a few minutes, and the boys were happy to chat while not being obtrusive. With a very late licence, this would be the place for a late night meet-up, not an Old Chooks night out. There was one toilet which had no hand towels although it was tidy in other respects. The music was great, probably meant to be retro but it was all our era!

BEST: The secret agent feel and the music.

WORST: Food. Although, to be honest, if you were here late at night, a sausage roll might be perfect!

Births and Deaths.

2/74 Kembla St, Wollongong

Births and Deaths has had a fair bit of cash thrown at it. The black walls frame the $6000 -worth of Italian tiles that back the bar. There is one long re-manufactured stone table in the middle of the room which would comfortably seat 30 and cafe style seating around outside of the room as well as a few stools at the bar. The bar was half full, with an interesting mix of people. B&D offered table service, a nice touch. We chatted at length to one of the owners, Jared. He explained his philosophy which focused on sustainability. He said they reused as much as possible. The straws were metal, the coasters, washable fabric. The kitchen ran on the concept of minimising waste with the beetroot and pumpkin scraps leftover from the tasting plates used to make syrup for drinks. According to Jared of Births and Deaths, my friends and I are part of the targeted demographic boutique bars in Wollongong are looking for. Cashed up and older.  Young folk, you see “pre-drink” and are stingy about buying food. Old Chooks like us, on the other hand, go out early, buy more expensive drinks and order lots of food. He is also part owner of the Howling Wolf and works in partnership with Cavaeu (a hatted restaurant nearby). He was very accommodating and chatty and talked to us about his plans and the issues of getting a licence and permission to operate.

B&D is also a gin bar but has a broader selection of wine and beers than Juniper. The food was unique, and while not vegetarian, was mostly plant-based. We tried a pumpkin plate which included morsels of pumpkin cooked a few different ways as well as some cheese and tomato toasties.

BEST: The food and the staff.

WORST: The toilet while not unisex, was not very private and it was easy to “disturb” the privacy of other patrons.

Night Parrot

69 Crown St, Wollongong

The Night Parrot was our first stop on the second research night. The technical hitches we had with the online survey (Diane’s phone going flat and Karen using the wrong form)   had been solved, so we were ready to go! A fourth researcher, Tanya, joined us. There were five other groups of people and seating was not a problem. The other patrons were well dressed and included a few couples. The decor was dark and classy with one wall lined with highly varnished wood panels. The remaining walls and ceiling were painted black and gave the place a cave-like feel.  The Night Parrot is a wine bar and features a walk-in wine cabinet which takes up one of the on-street windows. The busy kitchen was visible from the bar and added significantly to the atmosphere with steam wafting up from the stoves. There was seating at the bar as well as open tables and three padded “booths” which seated three comfortably with the fourth at the other side of the table. There was table service, and it took a little longer than expected to give our orders. I had decided to do Feb-Fast and was not drinking alcohol, and while the others were quickly served their wine, I had to ask a second time for my soda water. The volume of the music created a pleasant, unobtrusive feel and allowed for easy conversation. The lighting was on the dark side. This along with the dark walls, gave it a cozy atmosphere. The bar area was brightly lit. The one toilet cubicle was unisex. It was large and spacious with plenty of extra rolls of paper, gentle soap and a blower dryer. The decor was eclectic with a large suspended branch acting as a chandelier.

A small selection of food was on offer. I had the dumplings which were tasty and good value at four pieces for $14.  The wine selection was a mix of local and imported wines and over a wide price range. Both Diane and Tanya ($22) were pleased with their grenaches, one local ($14) one imported ($22).

BEST:  The decor and the wine selection;

WORST:  We thought that with the way the seating was arranged, it would be tough to feel comfortable as a solo visitor.

Moominn

68 Crown St, Wollongong

Moominn is a  quirky, warm, cozy place. It reminded me of someone’s  Grandma’s lounge room. There is a mixture of seating from a few lounge chairs around a fireplace to kitchen tables with old lino chairs. Some seating at the bar is also available. There are all sorts of bits and pieces hanging from the ceiling. Baskets, flowers, light fittings,  bottles, umbrellas etc. The walls are entirely covered with mismatched pictures which scream out OP SHOP find. A large blackboard shows the specials as well as a few witty quotes. They had flavoursome zero alcohol beer, and I would have had another if we were staying longer.

 

The others all had the same red wine and seemed satisfied with their choice. The drinks were served in very simple, practical glasses.  The barkeeper was friendly and offered advice on what beer they had when I asked for no alcohol. The food was OK. I found it a bit oily although the others enjoyed the mix of deep fried mushrooms, cauliflower and cheese bites. A second plate with bread and meatballs was very garlicky. The two dishes were $50 in total. They were small servings, and this seemed expensive to me. The single well-lit toilet is out back through the kitchen.  Quaint sayings are painted on the walls, and the jumbled, over-decorated theme continues here.

The music, while pleasant, was too loud. There was a good crowd of around 20 in attendance, We originally sat at the bar and swooped on a table when it was vacated. The partons were a very mixed group with a good spattering of older people.  It would be easy to visit Mooninn as a solo traveller with the lounge chairs near the fire being cozy and private.

BEST: Quirky fun feel

WORST: Noise levels

The Throsby

2/88 Kembla St, Wollongong

The Throsby is one of the more established small bars in Wollongong and has been open for several years. I had been there before. The waitress seemed to be annoyed when we walked in, and her face showed it.  It looked like we had crashed a private party. It was only 10:10 PM. The first thing she said was the kitchen has closed. Most of the tables were empty, and there were two other groups. A group of four young men at the table nearest the door and a group of six young people at the bar.

The decor is muted and sophisticated. You could describe it as Scandi with blond timber and fine lines. A petite arrangement of flowers/leaves was on each table. The light fittings were chic woven timber. Their glassware was elegant, and I had a tasty pink grapefruit-soda water mix. The music was bland but at a reasonable volume. The one toilet was a bit messy and smelly. It might have been OK  at the beginning of the night but needed a clean at this time.

IMG_5870

Karen and Tanya both commented that the wine was a bit acidic. We could not comment on the food as we did not see a menu. Although the vibe was quite pleasant, we did not interact with the wait staff at all beyond ordering our drinks. We did not score the Throsby well, and we perhaps were over critical because of our less than enthusiastic greeting.

BEST: decor and glassware:

WORST: Reception on arrival. If you’re not open for business, close the door!

And the winner (so far) is…

The graph below shows our overall scores for the six bars visited to date. Births and Deaths has come out as a clear winner for many reasons. Jared was a star. Friendly, knowledgeable and willing to spend time chatting with us telling us about his philosophy. This made all the difference.column graph showing scores for bars in Wollongong

(not great photography sorry!)

The Sydney Royal Easter Show

The Royal Easter Show is THE biggest event in Australia. Held at Sydney Olympic Stadium over 12 days and with an average of over 850,000 tickets sold, it hums with activity. The show is run by the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW, and the first show was held in 1823. The RAS’ charter is to support the farmers by acting as

“… a not-for-profit organisation, …committed to supporting agricultural development and rural communities in Australia by generating revenue through its businesses which is ploughed back into agriculture.”

Over the years it has changed and, of course, become more commercial. Show bags used to be called sample bags and were free. These days you have to pay a pretty penny for a bag full of plastic junk.

Despite this, the essence has remained the same. “The Royal” is the culmination of local and district agricultural shows which happen at various times throughout the year in country towns around NSW (and Australia). Farmers bring their best chickens, pigs and cattle to show, while others cook and vie for the title of best fruit cake. Old crafts such as knitting, crochet and leather carving are appreciated and kept alive by healthy competition.

In the various arena and pavillions, we city folk can watch tent pegging, show jumping, rodeo, dog and cat shows, and feel connected to those who provide our food.

In sideshow alley kids of all ages can ride on the giant Ferris wheel, the giant slide and the other noisy rides that throw them in the air in an eruption of squeals and shrieks.

I’m not sure how often I have been to the Show, perhaps 10? I remember going with my mum  on Good Fridays because it meant the crowd would be smaller as people observed that public holiday more piously 50 years ago. In those days, it was held at the Showgrounds in Moore Park, and we needed to catch two trains and a bus to get there.

I’ve been to the show three times in the last 6 years. It’s an excellent place for a photo safari and while I don’t look at everything I stick to the less commerical areas but make sure I check out the chickens!

The collages below show some of my shots from this year.

Tent pegging

Junior Judges being judged judging sheep….

Chickens!

A little of sideshow alley

Showjumping

Handicrafts

Tomorrow (23/4/19)  is the last day for the 2019 show. It’s Children’s Day and there are special offers. If you are visiting Sydney in 2020, I’d recommend you add it to the calendar of events. The glorious autumn weather and the feel good vibe, are bound to impress.

If I won the lottery.

a photo showing several lottery tickets

I have a confession to make.

I am a gambler.

I spend $AUD18 a week buying Lotto, Powerball and lottery tickets. Every week, when I go to the newsagent to check my tickets, I have that little knot of hope sitting in my belly. Maybe this time?

The $18 per week is the sum total of my gambling vice. I figure I can afford it and it’s a bit of fun so I don’t feel too guilty.  I can justify it easily. I take a packed lunch to work every day. I don’t buy coffee every day. If I did, that would be  $19 per week for the coffee alone! See! The lottery tickets are a bargain!

I have, of course, spent more than I have won. My daughter tells me I buy lottery tickets because of my working class background. Apparently, rich people don’t buy lottery tickets. They gamble in more respectable ways like the stock market or horse racing.

I don’t want to win a lot. $3 or 4 million would be plenty! I certainly don’t want to win one of those super Powerball prizes of $30 million or more! Of course, if I did, I wouldn’t be handing it back, but I don’t need it.

I don’t want to live an extravagant life. You know from my previous blog posts that I try not to be a thoughtless consumer. I just want to be able to quit the day job so I can write, travel and take photos!

I don’t want a buy a mansion with a pool or a pool room for that matter. I don’t want a Maserati. I don’t want to fly first class.  (Hang on a minute, maybe that’s one thing I do want!)

I want to win just enough to pay off my current mortgage, buy a small investment property that I could rent out as a source of reliable income and then have enough spending money leftover for a relatively comfortable and creative life. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

a handwritten note calcualtedhow much I need to win in the lottery.
How much do you need?

Let’s see: with the mortgage out of the way and keeping my living standard at its current level; with a life expectancy of 30 more years, allowing for two overseas trips per year, a new car in 10 years, and a bit of a contingency fund for new appliances and furniture when the current ones wear out or break – how much do I need? A few calculations later and not allowing for inflation or interest earned, I figure I need $2.8 million. Therefore,  $3-4 million is an appropriate goal.

I just need to win!

EASY!

 

Don’t worry, IF I did win the big one, I have it all worked out. I will buy a number of properties that I would rent to lower income families for a very moderate rate. These people would be strugglers. The people Australians call “Battlers”. Honest, hardworking folk who are being left behind in this current housing market.  There would be a catch to their lower rent, however. They would need to agree to volunteer for a community organisation for a negotiated number of hours per week. The time would be dependent on their other responsibilities but they would need to have a regular commitment to being a volunteer. They would do good. They would feel good.  I would feel good! I would need to hire some people to make this happen because I would be too busy writing, travelling and taking photos!

…. and I’d take my mum on a cruise! A long one!

A row of deck chairs. I am lying on one of them
Welcome Cruislings

Fingers crossed!

Wollongong Snapshot: Wollongong Botanic Gardens

Being a tourist in your own town has its advantages. It’s quick, inexpensive and you don’t need much planning.  I took myself off to the Wollongong Botanic Gardens on a glorious spring day in search of colourful flowers and interesting textures. I was not disappointed!

A large kookaburra sitting on a rock
Plenty of bird life to be found in the gardens

It seems like ages since I have been out for the express purpose of taking photos.  The  Gardens are one of my favourite places for a close-to-home photo safari.

The Gardens are across the road from the University of Wollongong, but it’s best to park in Murphy’s Avenue, Gwynneville.  (click here for a map of the area) Because it is right near the Uni, parking can be a bit tricky during Semester time. There is a small designated parking area in the gardens itself. (Enter on Murphy’s Road)

A black metal scultpure of a man in a baseball hat with is arms crossed
Sculptures adorn the lawns

The Gardens are free and a fabulous place for a picnic. There are limited BBQ Facilities near the entrance. An “all-abilities” children’s’ playground with a big sandpit, climbing web and maze will keep kids occupied for ages. The design ensures that is accessible for everyone including those with limited mobility.

Spring flowers in the Wollongong Botanic Gardens-35
Well organised picnickers nab the best spots!

In summer, you can take along your family,  bean bags, cushions and a picnic dinner and catch a movie on a big outdoor screen as the sun sets and the birds twitter in the trees.   Not all movies are suitable for kids but many are, so best to check the program here Sunset Cinema first.

The highlights for me are the Dryland Gardens (good all year)  and the rose garden (you need to pick the season). In spring, of course, you will find the garden in full bloom. Since most trees in Australia are evergreen and our Autumn’s are not very cold, there is not much leaf colour  as you would find in colder climes.

If you wanted to make a full day of it take a packed lunch,  include a walk around the Uni which has pleasant grounds and have a peek at Glennifer Brae, the stately home of the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music, both within an easy stroll from the Garden itself..

There are  guided tours run by the Friends of the Botanic Gardens and there are various gardening workshops advertised on the website.

Spring flowers in the Wollongong Botanic Gardens-25

These photos were taken on September 30th and while its  officially been spring for a whole month the weather was only just starting to warm up.

Spring flowers in the Wollongong Botanic Gardens-10

I have edited some as black and white to emphasise the textures; especially in the cactus.

Spring flowers in the Wollongong Botanic Gardens-5

These photos were all taken with my Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 and edited in Lightroom. Some frames where further edited using Nik software or Jixipix.

I hope you enjoy them!

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Travel values

a red watercan nailed to a white fence

I read an article about how the rise of the global tourist is killing Europe. It described how locals are being isolated and alienated in their own cities as bus loads of tourists arrive with their selfie sticks and cameras. Fresh off the cruise boat they don’t spend much, but they strip the place of its ambiance like a horde of locusts.

Am I a travel locust?

It was a slap in the face that I could not ignore.

A painterly photo of vineyards set in hills.
Winter vineyards in drought

It made me sad to think I could be part of a global problem, after all I have Do Iceland on my bucket list! Am I going to make it harder for the inhabitants? Will they get kicked out of their homes so I can rent a place on AirBnB? Will I be welcome? I have always felt that my tourist dollars were welcome. But at what cost? Sure I add to the local economy, but if it means the locals are unable to enjoy the amenity of their own home to the extent described by this article; I don’t want to be a part of that!

It got me thinking about my “travel values” and my “value as a traveller”. I generally travel solo although I have joined in on small group tours run by the likes of Intrepid and Peregrine. My impact must be lower than a cruise boat which docks with 2500 passengers for a few hours. It must; mustn’t it? I try not to exploit the locals by acting like the rich tourist who barters over the equivalent of 50 cents. That makes me an ethical traveller? Doesn’t it?

A cartoon person with one eye is painted on an old abandoned building.
Abandoned house

It’s time to examine my travel values. Here is an interview with my right shoulder guy (Reggie)  and my left shoulder guy (Louie)

Why do you want to travel Louie? To experience new things and to learn about the world. To increase my knowledge of and therefore acceptance for, people different to myself. To decrease the boundaries between myself and “the other”.

Is that the only reason: Ok so there is a little bit of one-up-manship in there too. Also a bit of vanity publishing as evidenced by this blog. Listen Reggie we want to be famous! This is our fledgling side hustle here!

We don’t have to fly somewhere on a jet and add to carbon emissions to experience something new? That’s true. Perhaps we  don’t. But we have our reputation as a budding photographer to consider here Reggie.

Ahh yes maybe? But Australia is an amazing place! Can’t you take fabulous photos here too? Yes we could but to travel for two weeks around Australia would cost us as much as four weeks in Asia and….

See there you go you are a hypocrite! It’s all about money!  NO! It’s not! I want to be a mindful, thoughtful, considerate, intelligent traveller….

Yeah sure sure you do!

But I actually do.

A green oil drum sits on top of a tree stump and is used as a mailbox.
Roadside mail box on the Mudgee Road

What ARE my travel values?

  1. To do no harm
  2. To meet and talk to the people who live in a place as people not as photo opportunities.
  3. To pay a fair price, not the lowest price.
  4. To take time in one place. Quality not quantity of adventures.
  5. To be active. Walk more, fly/drive less.
  6. To add value by taking less than I give.
  7. To get to know places well.
  8. To make friends.
  9. To reciprocate.
  10. To be a good ambassador for my own culture/country.

My travel slate is clear for 2019 at this point in time. With a serious drought affecting all of my own home state, I think I might make it a year to travel local and see more of this Wide Brown Land. My dollar will do more good here than abroad.

A road sign warning of kangaroos has been altered to show the kangaroo skiing.
Road tripping!

 

Delayed flight leads to writing bonanza

I got an email from Korean Airlines to tell me my flight the next day was going to be delayed by two hours. It was nice that they let me know. It was late on Boxing Day – a public holiday in Australia. Even though I knew the limo company would be closed, I sent them an email “just in case”  to  try and change the time of my airport transfer pick up. Thankfully, they got back to me and we agreed on a new time. Then I got another email from KAL to say the flight was going to be another two hours late. I didn’t want to muck the limo people around with another change so I just resigned myself to the fact that I would be at the airport SUPER early! My pick up would be eight hours before the flight. The transfer company has a policy of getting you to the airport 3 hours ahead of time because of the vagaries of Sydney traffic. It normally takes an hour to get to the airport and then check in, immigration clearance and the security check might use up another hour. I was looking at 6 hours to waste airside before boarding. Sigh!

I stepped out of the minibus and sniffed the air. I love that first whiff of AvGas when you are close to the airport. Apart from the fact you have suitcases in tow, and a passport in your hand, it’s proof you are going somewhere. The heady kerosene-like odour that tells you the tarmac and turbulence are not too far away.

The second clue you are travelling is the queue. As a seasoned traveller (LOL) I sometimes get impatient in these queues and run an internal commentary. Come on people!! You know you need photo ID to get your boarding pass. Get it out of your wallet before you get to the counter.You’ve just been standing in a line for the last 30 minutes watching everyone else hand over their ID. We could be saving about 50 seconds per transaction here if people were ready. What? Repacking your bags NOW? FFS you had all morning to weigh them.

Breathe Robyn! Breathe! You are going on holidays! Just grab a coffee, sit back and watch the people go by.

People watching

The first person to catch my attention is a ¾ age man (you know – older than middle age but not yet old) in his hipster aqua shorts with pineapple print. Then a Russian (judging by the language – Baltic at least) with the close to pornographic photo of two women being ….ah…. friendly… on the front of his t-shirt. I wonder how he got through immigration with that on? The brash, very well dressed Yanks float past in their matching boat shoes, white fedoras and navy jackets.  No doubt on their way to the first class lounge. The mums with toddlers asleep on their shoulders trying to kick their bags along.  They’ve invented trolleys love… I think to myself.

All this, backgrounded by Mariah Carey singing Christmas carols.

I move on, walk around for a while and then get another coffee. I am waiting for my phone to recharge after plugging in to one of the new charging stations that are everywhere in the airport now. No need to sit on the floor and unplug the drinks machine these days. I quickly switch back into people-watching mode. A young woman in front of me is talking on her phone, wearing  earphones,  her free hands are waving wildly in their air. Whoever is on the other end is clearly keeping her amused and she laughs and giggles. So sweet to watch. The young fellow to the right of me is using his phone as a mirror and is picking his zits…Ewwwwwww.

areoplanes through a round window

My phone has 2% to full charge and I still have three more hours to wait.

I listen to the announcements and wonder what happens to those  who are called out as the last people to board? They must have checked in? Did they change their mind and decide not to go? Was there some sort of family tragedy which kept them from flying out? Where they in the car accident that had caused the traffic jam 5 km out of the airport?

More people watching!

There are two African-American guys standing in the line at McDonalds. One has a big guitar like keyboard around his neck and the other has big gold chains, short spiky dreadlocks and gold reflective sunglasses on. They look like they should be famous. Perhaps they are just wankers. A Muslim man walks past with 4 daughters – so many weddings to pay for!

At  noon I decide it’s close enough to beer o’clock and buy a glass of wine which turns into two and hallelujah – it’s time to board.

All in all, the waste of time was productive. I wrote three blog posts. Researched part of a family history I wanted to write and made up character arcs for some of the interesting people who have walked by. Who knows, perhaps I even featured in another bored traveller’s diary.

View across Sydeny airport toward the city

Is childhood anxiety on the rise?

A closeup shot of a leaf with dark and light green stripes

Childhood in the 1960s

Growing up in the 60s, I would describe my childhood as free range. By this I mean that while I was well cared for, I did not have much close supervision. This was not unusual for the times.  Provided we told our parents where we were going and what we were doing they just let us go and do it. We would stay outside all day, in all seasons. In wet weather, we would play inside and dress up our dolls and build whole new worlds.  We played under the house building mud pies in the dirt with little regard for the spiders that hung from the joists above our heads. We were happy and active.

I don’t remember our parents organising any of our activities. We worked it out for ourselves, although we had to ask for permission to watch TV or when we wanted a sleepover.

Water fall shot with a slow shutter.

We’d play on the street with all the neighbourhood kids. Someone would yell out “CAR” and we’d scamper aside and let the traffic pass and then continue with the game of cricket or soccer. Once again, I don’t remember any parents around to tell us to be careful or to watch out. There was a mix of ages from Will and Micky who were the oldest right down to pipsqueaks like me who were five years younger.

I obviously survived, although I did have a few near misses[1]. Once when my brother and I were playing at the beach and I got caught in a rip. Some fellow scooped me out of the surf and took me back to my mother who was sleeping on the sand. In her defence, we weren’t supposed to be swimming!

I remember slicing my foot from toe to heel on a  rusty water tank we were using as a slippery dip. The most vivid part of this memory being the bloody little foot prints I left on the road as I limped home.

In kindergarten, I was walking home from school on a rainy day splashing in puddles when I got stuck in a big open drain with the water rising around me. And the nearest miss, when I was at my best friend’s cousins’ place swimming in their pool and one of the older kids bombed me. I had to be dragged to the surface after someone realised I hadn’t come up yet.

A bee forages for pollen on a bright yellow aloe flower

Modern parents are more involved but at what price?

More recently, parents and carers are more involved in directing the activities of their children. Dance lessons, after school tutoring, training for sports, pre-organised play dates. All structured time. I guess this is mostly because many parents and particularly, mums, work away of home and scheduling is necessary. You can no longer pop next door and know that someone will be home.

Is adolescent anxiety on the rise?

If you ask me if anxiety and depression and other mental illnesses have increased in the 26 years years I have been teaching I would give an emphatic YES.   Is my perception backed by evidence?  I notice it more and more but is that because as a school leader, I am more involved in that aspect of schooling? Today alone I spoke to three families about their anxious and school-refusing children.  The quick research I did in preparation for this post, indicates my perception can not be supported evidence.

Some articles say there has been no increase in the prevalence of anxiety disorders, while others refer to an “epidemic” and crisis of mental health issues. The problem is that data collection relating to childhood anxiety has only started in the last 10 – 15 years. We don’t have a clear picture on the anxiety levels of past generations because it wasn’t measured or reported  so we cannot accurately compare. We simply don’t know. We have no good base line data. Anxiety levels might be higher or they could even be lower.

Round ball like seeds pods against a bright blue sky

 

While my hunch is not supported by hard evidence, I have first hand observational data – even if the sample size is very small –  that some kids, especially girls around 14 – 16 can not be separated from their phones. I have had girls crying and begging to be suspended from school rather than hand in their phone after using it inappropriately in class time. Their fear of losing that point of contact is palpable. They quiver and become faint.

Is there a link between the use of smart phones and the apparent increase in anxiety?

Probably?

Has the shift in care practices made a difference to childhood happiness and health?

Maybe…

The practices of 50 years ago may be seen as neglectful these days.  At school we often discuss helicopter parents – those who hover constantly over their children and the more notorious lawn mower parents who sweep ahead and mow down any obstacles in their children’s path. Of course, all parents want their children to be safe and not be hurt, teased or bullied but has the pendulum swung too far? Are today’s parents stopping their children learning valuable lessons and denying them opportunities to  be resilient and self reliant? Are they creating anxious kids by accident?

I think so.

The Australian Government report into childhood anxiety does state the following:

It might be tempting to blame increased screen time [for anxiety] and access to information via the internet that didn’t exist in previous generations….

The presence of screens is not necessarily something that’s going to create anxiety. Social media, unfortunately, is a huge factor. Particularly in primary school.[2]

Further, parents of anxious children can exacerbate the issue by protecting their children too much. When I am dealing with anxious kids I usually find an anxious parent not too far behind.

If a child is worried about going on a school camp, for example, it can be tempting for parents to accommodate their wishes….[and let them stay at home]

‘What keeps anxiety going is avoidance,’ … ‘If you stay away from situations you’re nervous about, the child will never learn that she can handle it, and that actually camp can be fun.[3]

Once again it would seem like the middle ground is the place to be. We have to keep children safe, but not so safe they are scared to stretch their wings.

More information on childhood anxiety

There are some good articles available on the topic if you’d care to read more.

This one about teens and social media from Harvard is an easy and informative read.

https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/12/social-media-and-teen-anxiety

For a very in-depth look at the situation in Australia – have a look at this 2015 Australian Government report. (You will need to click on the link that is on that page to download the PDF)

http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/mental-pubs-m-child2

And the Young Minds Matter website – in particular, have a look at the Snapshot of Findings Video.

https://youngmindsmatter.telethonkids.org.au/


 

The images are meant to be calming, natural scenes to help keep you rested!

[1] My mum will kill me when she reads this! Of course, it’s from my stand point and with my version of events! Artistic licence DLT!

[2] http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/childhood-anxiety-australia-report/7214886

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/childhood-anxiety-australia-report/7214886

Canada – just like Australia but with mountains and bears

Shot from the lake looking up at a huge waterfall.

I have just finished watching Series 2 of the Handmaids’ Tale.  While the show itself is fantastic, if not a little bleak, I wonder if it was made by the Canadian Tourist Bureau. It certainly highlights some of the good political and social features of Canada! What is doesn’t show us is the beauty.

In 2016 I did a solo travel adventure to Canada. I flew into Vancouver and drove from there to Calgary and then flew over to the east coast visiting Toronto and Ottawa. As an Old Chook travelling alone, I would really recommend it as a safe and fun destination with plenty to see and do.

I have put together this short photo essay on Adobe Spark Page. It’s an experimental post to see how blending these two platforms works. Clicking on the picture will take you to an Adobe page. Then scroll through to look at the photos.

Why would any (sensible) Australian ever want to go to Canada?